My friend Kevin DeYoung beat me to the “post” button with his question and concern on “New Wave Complementarianism.” Kevin is always thoughtful and helpful with a wonderful ability to take complex things and make them simple.

If you’ve read his post, you know that he responds to another post entitled “New Wave Complementarianism” written by Wendy Alsup. I don’t know Wendy personally but I’ve appreciated her courage and her insight over the couple years I’ve been reading her books and blog. In her post, Wendy (as I read her) attempts a framework for describing a phenomena she sees among many women who (a) love their Bibles, (b) are themselves unashamed complementarians, but (c) sometimes find themselves uncomfortable with what Alsup calls “old school complementarianism.” In reply, Kevin asks the question: “What was the old wave” of complementarianism?

Definitions Matter

When Wendy offered her post a couple weeks back, I was one of Kevin’s friends who tweeted an appreciation for it. That’s not to say I agreed with everything in the post. But I resonated with its spirit, which I’d tried to express in my own terms some time back in a series of posts titled, “I’m a Complementarian, But….”

If we’re to have a fruitful conversation, it seems to me we need to start with definitions, with Kevin’s question. Otherwise we’re bound to talk right past one another. When Wendy wrote of “old school complementarians” and “hard core complementarianism/patriarchy” I think she made at least a rhetorical error. I don’t think she means to equate patriarchy with complementarity (I trust she’ll be able to speak to that herself), but putting these things on par creates some confusion and probably the male counterpart to what some women feel when they hear feminism treated as an unmitigated evil. We ought not conflate patriarchy (often a pejorative synonymous with oppression of women) with either “old school” or “hard core” complementarianism (a biblical understanding of our humanity and how our genders relate in home and church).

As I see it, two problems result. First, we simply and harmfully mis-define and misrepresent both patriarchy and complementarity. Being too casual or too sloppy at this point risks setting up “sides” in a discussion that ought genuinely feature partners–especially if we’re legitimate complementarians. Second, not drawing clear distinctions between patriarchy and complementarity prevents us from benefitting from both history and our contemporary discussion. We miss each other.

What We Could Miss in This Discussion

I’m excited for what could happen in this conversation. It could result in fresh and joyful wind filling the sails of complementarian practice. We could learn to speak and live this vision of our shared humanity in a way that makes God’s wisdom and creativity beautiful inside and outside the church to some measure. But for that to happen, we have to be careful to hear the “gist” of what conversation partners are saying.

Missing Our Sisters’ Perspective. For example, I read Wendy’s post and others around the same time with appreciation and hope in part because I heard something very different than Kevin. Kevin heard in the post a kind of apologetic against egalitarianism that ceded too much ground. Witness his concluding sentence: “The impulse to rescue counter-cultural doctrines from their own unpopularity is one of the first steps to losing the doctrine altogether.” I think that sentence is true. Making tough doctrines “prettier” to their “cultured despisers” does tend toward the loss of the truth itself. But is that what is happening here?

When I read Alsup and others, I heard a collection of sisters serious about the faith, embracing the Bible and complementarity (sometimes admittedly against their sinful inclinations), who want to be useful to the Lord and His church, but who also have a critique to offer. I hear some women who have had sometimes painful experiences with malpractice. And I hear some women who are telling us that they’re picking up messages that major on exclusion and weakness–what women cannot do and what some teach as inherent feminine gullibility and debility or disability. I’m hearing some women telling us that some fundamental affirmation of their beauty, dignity, purpose, and usefulness as women goes lacking in our teaching and our community. They are listening to us as women—as God has made them—and they are endeavoring to tell us something about that experience of hearing our teaching and receiving our leadership.

To borrow from one sister who I thought at points wrote beautifully and helpfully of this critique:

“We want you to understand that male is not the default setting for human existence. That being female was not an afterthought or a derivative. We want you to understand that we happily defer to you, but not easily. That submission is a sacrifice we gladly offer but it is a sacrifice nonetheless. It is a sacrifice precisely because we are equals. And deferring to you in our homes and churches requires a strength that only God can provide.”

We need to hear these critiques even if we don’t agree at every point along the way. We need to treasure this precisely because we are complementarians of a biblical variety, whether “old school” or “hard core.” I think we need to hear it because I’m certain we’ve all seen and heard enough of the malpractice to know that our sisters’ critiques are not unfounded. It would be to the blessing of our sisters in our churches if we could mine everything that’s good and necessary from this perspective so that we might speak of and live out complementarity beautifully.

What Some Women Miss. On the other hand, I long for some sisters to hear some very real concerns at both the broader cultural level and at the most practical level of home. Culturally, we are still in the battle for a vision of flourishing gender in biblical roles. But the battle lines have shifted in some regards. When some of the “old complementarians” took up arms in this fight, there were snarling opponents outside the church and inside the church. To them it seemed an almost lost cause from the beginning. Their leaning into the storm was a tremendous act of courage and faith. Many of the chief opponents held influential pulpits and presidencies at Christian institutions. I hope they might be forgiven if sometimes the tone they use seems battle-hardened, perhaps more fitting for that “old” struggle against those “old” enemies.

Many of these stalwarts are, frankly, surprised that so much ground for complementarity has actually been warn. Yet some of them (or more accurately, their followers) may not have realized that they don’t have to capture the same ground twice. They don’t have to respond to sisters on the same team with tones and comments similar to how those developed over years of strife and conflict. But I hope they might be forgiven if they sometimes react with a little PTSD when they hear sisters “inside the camp” seemingly evoking the arguments of “enemies” long declared opposed to a biblical view. When you’ve been fighting on one front for so long you can begin to respond to every front much the same way. Everything looks like a nail to a hammer. But these men and women are not calling for an oppressive patriarchy as I understand it. To equate them with patriarchal oppressors of women does them a significant disservice and fails to pay proper respect to the gains they’ve won for us all. Hence, again, the need for definition and carefulness.

Moreover, I long for some sisters to hear the argumentation for the typical understanding of Genesis 3:16. That understanding best represents the general state of things when it comes to the typical experience of breakdowns in of complementarity in the home. I don’t doubt for a moment that there are plenty of women who do not wish to rule over their husbands. We don’t want to stereotype. But my pastoral counseling experience teaches me that the woman’s “desire for her husband” all too often does, in fact, look like a usurping of roles, a grasping for authority and control. What I see in homes isn’t just “idolatrous desire for a husband’s affection” but also a strong craving to “rule over the man.” And in surprising ways those two sinful inclinations tend to twine themselves together. The more she grabs for rulership, the less affection she receives from a retreating husband. The more a woman craves that affection but doesn’t get it, the more she defaults to control as a mechanism for coercing it. And on it goes. Pastorally, I think the “new wave” interpretation of Genesis 3:16 really misses the experiential mark for tons of women. Since Alsup’s interpretation of Gen. 3:16 is foundational to her description of “NWC,” it seems further thought and adjustment is needed at precisely this point. This is, after all, where the rubber most painfully hits the road and burns our dreams.

Speaking Beautifully about the Beautiful

Let me say that I mostly agree with Kevin’s response to points 4-6 of Alsup’s articulation of “New Wave Complementarianism.” As already mentioned, I think the typical interpretation of Genesis 3:16 is more compelling. I’m less negative about feminism than Kevin seems but also less sanguine than Alsup. What I appreciate about feminism is what perhaps Alsup appreciates—it was an effort to correct oppressive actions against women. I think we’re all against such oppression. But I’m less sanguine than Alsup (perhaps?) because feminism responds to oppression by placing an explosive charge at the very pillars of a biblical understanding of gender and gender roles. That’s been far more destructive in its effects than seemingly acknowledged in Alsup’s appreciation.

But, honestly, from my vantage point, our debate about those things feels and seems much less important than our ability to describe and live a complementarian vision with beauty and dignity and grace—on the ground. If we don’t learn to speak of a beautiful thing beautifully, we won’t make much more progress in either direction. If our practice isn’t our apologetic (1 Tim. 4:14; Titus 2:405, for ex.), then we won’t really have anything to commend.

In some of the “New Wave” posts, wonderfully poignant points were made. But they would also be marred with a kind of agitation and advocacy that I’m sure felt necessary but to me marred the beauty. You could leave feeling like you were the enemy rather than the complement. Likewise, in the counter responses, to the extent that they miss the “gist” of our sisters’ concerns, it’s not difficult to see how some women might go away feeling as if they were just tagged with the “egalitarian,” “feminist” or “problem” label. What they felt could be beautiful might seem trampled upon with slippery slope warnings.

It seems to me that we need a lot more work on describing the essential beauty of femininity and complementarity. We need to repeatedly point to that almost ineffable quality of womanhood that makes it regal, splendid, alluring, and necessary in essence. Womanhood is not an afterthought or a surplus. I know everyone knows and understands that, but do we make it a major point in our teaching and treatment of each other?

We need a lot more work on describing the functional beauty of femininity and complementarity. How womanhood works is in itself beautiful. Women are not men with different reproductive organs. They are, as God designed them, uniquely capacitated to work and do. We ought not be afraid of the phrase “women’s work,” because I suspect God did have in mind a “women’s work” that uniquely belonged to them, not in  the sense of relegated insignificance but in the sense of a fuller and distinct revelation of something about himself. And that’s beautiful. It’s Satan’s work to make us think otherwise.

We need to discuss the spiritual beauty of femininity and complementarity. I find the invitation to think about the imago Dei more frequently in these discussions an attractive opportunity. I’m no Barthian or neo-Barthian and I don’t feel myself in danger of Kevin’s concern here. But I’m certain God had intention, purpose, design beyond body when in infinite wisdom He decided to make woman. The spiritual qualities of womanhood and how they are both similar and dissimilar to manhood could use more treatment, especially as it beautifies those qualities rather than obfuscates them.

Finally, we need to discuss the moral beauty of complementarity and femininity. It’s good and right to be a woman who embraces both the limits and the freedoms that God gives. That goodness and rightness needs articulation. We need constant description of how moral flourishing happens when we abide in this vision of our humanity.

I wonder if we might be able to seize this opportunity to think and write beautifully about a reality that is itself beautiful. Or will we miss this potential because, truthfully, miss the opportunity to be complementarians?

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36 thoughts on “Speaking of Beautiful Things in a Beautiful Way: Complementarianism “New” or “Old””

  1. Luma Simms says:

    Pastor Thabiti,

    This was beautiful, as were your posts from Jan 2011, which I just read this week. When you published those in Jan 2011 I had just come out of the darkness of gospel amnesia. Here I am today, by the grace of God, listening attentively to you.

    I don’t want to die on the hill of the definition for desire of Gen.3:16, primarily because I believe I still fall in all the same places as you in all the other areas. However, from personal experience the definition “desire to usurp” did a great deal of damage to my marriage for the years we espoused that definition. I know I haven’t done enough research. Here, however, is someone who has done some historical research on Church fathers and Reformers and where they stood regarding the definition of the word “desire.” http://www.depositsoffaith.com/papers/The%20Pronouncement%20on%20Eve%20-%20Gen%203%2016.pdf

    Having said what you said, in the way in which you said it, I will go back and think some more on Genesis 3:16. Let me go chew on that.

    Here is how I responded to Pastor DeYoung:

    Kevin,

    As Wendy stated in the comments, I am the one who suggested that “new wave” phrasing to her.

    I can’t speak for everyone who has written on this, but as for me, I am “really talking about the abuses of complementarianism that we know of through painful personal experiences.”

    I resonated with your metaphor of power washing a doctrine, and this was exactly what I had in mind when I suggested the “new wave” phrasing to Wendy. So if it’s possible, try to think of the “new wave” as washing over, and not leaving behind an old wave.

    Also, you should know, from my own perspective, I have no interest in watering down or taking the edges off of any Biblical doctrine to make it more appealing or palatable to egalitarians. What I am interested in is clearing away the dirt that has encrusted and tarnished this beautiful doctrine.

    I am grateful to you for your book, “Freedom and Boundaries,” which was instrumental in washing off my own misunderstandings of male/female relationships in Christ.
    ————————————————————–

    Pastor Thabiti, you don’t know how much this means to me. What you wrote and how you wrote it. May the Lord Jesus bless you mightily.

  2. Sandra says:

    Thank you so much for the gracious tone of this post. I appreciate DeYoung’s critique, but believe that Wendy and the many women who have added to the conversation are in the trenches and are responding to the issues we see on blogs, at bookstores, in our churches, and as we counsel women. I don’t believe Wendy or any of the women who agreed with her post want to divide complementarianism. I for one am very thankful for CBMW and am excited about their new blog channel for women, Karis. As Jen Wilkin wrote on her blog recently, we want to be pursued. We want to be valued. When I attended TGC women’s conference last year, I looked around amazed there were that many other women who were like me! The female complementarian voice seems to be a quiet whisper in the cacophony of the Internet. Wendy and the others who are engaging in this conversation are being heard, and I am thankful.

  3. Wendy Alsup says:

    Thabiti, thanks for this. One thought I have is the inadequacy of the terms complementarian and patriarchy. They simply are not specific enough. They are easily used positively by some and negatively by others. Plus, they are not biblical terms. In other words, they are our attempts to summarize a number of Bible principles that are presented throughout Scripture, but the terms themselves are not used. So, when different people use the words with different backgrounds in different ways, there is inevitably a level of disconnect as we discuss it. That’s a problem I don’t know how to solve.

    Nonetheless, I think it’s healthy to discuss it for a time, though I’d love for the conservative Church to find an equilibrium on this topic that keeps it from dominating so much of the evangelical blog culture in the future.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Wendy,

      Thanks for dropping by and commenting. I agree with you about the mixed use of the terms, which is why I think it’s a mistake to equate them as you seemed to do in your post and to talk about these things without (perhaps exhaustingly) positively defining what we mean. Otherwise folks will feel attacked and we won’t actually be discussing the same thing. For my part, I would not hitch my wagon to “patriarchy” because it has too much baggage (at least to me). And though complementarian, like “Trinity,” is not terms used in the Bible, it nonetheless is probably the best word we have for describing what the Bible does in fact teach. It seems to me, then, a better route would be to use the term more precisely, peel off its counterfeits, name its abuses, and beautify it as best we can.

      I’m happy for more ink to be spilled on this if we can listen to one another and work constructively toward proposals for practice. It seems necessary that we keep refining and re-presenting a joyful, winsome vision for biblical living.

      T-

      1. Wendy Alsup says:

        Thanks, Thabiti. My goal was not to be defined by what I’m against, but what I’m for. Honestly, I have no idea how to offer an exhaustive definition of other ways of approaching complementarianism and/or patriarchy. But your point is taken. :-)

      2. Rachael Starke says:

        Thabiti – thanks as usual for your winsome, thoughtful reply. The PTSD analogy is a good one to keep in mind. One of the things Luma and I and others have been talking through is ways to move from simply “spilling ink” online (as helpful (or not!) as that is) to getting these questions and proposed answers (through both words and deeds) out into the broader church community. TGC has lead the way already through things like appointing Kathleen Nielsen, incorporating women writers into its blog community, and definitely through the TGCW conference. Those activities have definitely built a framework; perhaps the next question is how to build onto the framework with more small group/collective discussion that’s visible. An Iced Tea summit? (Kind of a joke, kind of not). In discussions like this with historical battles and collateral damage on both sides, visible person to person or group to group exchanges can sometimes serve better, or move things along more positively more quickly, than blog discussions, with their inherent communication challenges.

        Just thinking out loud. But for the record, many of us consider the series you did last year as pivotal in moving this discussion forward. Your heart for women models Jesus’ heart, which means that we both appreciate so much your support, and that we are willing and ready to be corrected and steered as we walk together to serve Jesus.

      3. Lou G. says:

        Hi Thabiti and thank you for what you’ve written here. It is wonderfully encouraging. With regard to the mixed use of terms and equating complementarian with patriarchy, the one thing that might be a helpful reminder is that authors at The Gospel Coalition and CBMW have published posts and linked to articles that do make this claim. Their writings are still currently available in circulation.

        So, when I read Wendy’s article, I didn’t get the impression that it was her claim, but rather that she was recalling that previous representatives of the complementarian position have in fact made that claim for themselves (and for the rest of us).

        Again, though, thank you so much for this helpful post and your earlier ones in 2011. Blessings, Lou.

        1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

          Thanks so much for this Lou. I’ll look for the other TGC posts that make that equation. I’ve not read them.
          T-

          1. SM says:

            I, too, don’t think Alsup was unfairly equating complementarianism and patriarchy as it is done so by it’s own proponents. Complementarianism, in so long as it is hierarchical with unilateral male authority and rule and female submission, is in fact patriarchy.

            “Evans [Rachel Held Evans] claims that complementarianism is patriarchy, and here she *stumbles upon the truth*… the *patriarchy* of marriage models the patriarchy of the Godhead. (*emphasis added) http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2012/06/08/debatable-is-complementarianism-another-word-for-patriarchy/

            Owen Strachen, executive director of CBMW & TGC contributor, in the Journal for Biblical Womanhood and Manhood writes:

            “For millennia, followers of God have practiced what used to be called patriarchy and is now called complementarianism.” http://www.dennyburk.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/5-Strachan.pdf

            Denny Burk, CBMW journal editor, prefers patriarchy. http://www.dennyburk.com/complementarianism-or-patriarchy-whats-in-a-name/

            Russell Moore, TGC contributor or resource: “Christianity is undergirded by a vision of patriarchy…Even to use the word “patriarchy” in an evangelical context is uncomfortable since the word is deemed “negative” even by most complementarians. But evangelicals should ask why patriarchy seems negative to those of us who serve the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—the God and Father of Jesus Christ.” http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/49/49-3/JETS_49-3_569-576_Moore.pdf

            Doug Wilson, TGC contributor & until recently on the TGC blogroll, is esteemed as an authority within the patriarchy/complementarian movement with “Federal Husband” along with other stock reading material.

            1. SM says:

              More claims from hierarchical-complementarians that their theology is patriarchy:

              Joe Carter, editor of TGC: “Is complementarianism another word for patriarchy? Egalitarians and many complementarians agree: It is indeed.” http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2012/06/08/debatable-is-complementarianism-another-word-for-patriarchy/

              Russell Moore: “…[Complementarians] must not fear making a claim that is disturbingly counter-cultural and yet strikingly biblical…Christianity is undergirded by a vision of patriarchy.”

              “…patriarchy is necessary because the problem is not that evangelicals do not hold to “traditionalist” notions of gender and family, but rather where they find these notions.”

              “…the patriarchal structures that exist in the creation order point to his headship—a headship that is oriented toward redemption in Christ…”

              “Authentic Christian patriarchy also has immediate implications for the welfare of the family.”

              “a more patriarchal complementarianism will resonate among a generation seeking stability in a family-fractured Western culture in ways that soft-bellied big-tent complementarianism never can.” Russell Moore, http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/49/49-3/JETS_49-3_569-576_Moore.pdf

              More Denny Burk: “For my [Denny Burk] part, I prefer complementarianism or biblical patriarchy.”

              “You’ll also find out that after all the feminist propaganda is stripped away, biblical patriarchy isn’t such a bad designation after all.”

              “As defined in the Danvers Statement, complementarianism is irreducibly hierarchical. As defined in the Danvers Statement, complementarianism is irreducibly hierarchical.” (In comments)

              “Biblical Patriarchy” would be a shorthand for the complementarian position–a moniker that emphasizes the hierarchy/headship inherent within that view.” (In comments) (http://www.dennyburk.com/complementarianism-or-patriarchy-whats-in-a-name/

              Hierarchical-complementarians affirm a hierarchy in marriage wherein authority and rule, though benevolent, is invested in the husband. Male or father authority or rule is patriarchy. Mary Kassian and Piper, who both claim to have helped coin the term complementarian, acknowledge they declined the use of patriarchy, not on the grounds that the definition of patriarchy is not an accurate characterization of the movement’s theology but out of concern that negative connotations can be attributed to patriarchy. This is easily searchable on the internet.

            2. EMSoliDeoGloria says:

              SM notes examples of prominent conservative pastors / scholars equating complementarianism and partriarchy above. Those examples are also what came to my mind as I read your appeal. It is very hard not to equate the two when their most prominent proponents do so, sometimes in most ungracious ways. I also think of the ridiculing tone Russell Moore takes toward men who actually treat their wives as equals in marriage. I’d encourage you to listen to this recording – and try to hear it the way Wendy or I might.

            3. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

              Thanks. Will do!

  4. Cherie says:

    Thank you for this article! I long for people to write and teach on the essential, function, moral, and spiritual beauty (like you stated at the end of your article) of complementarity and femininity! I long to live, serve, and flourish in the way that God designed for me as a woman because I know that He is good and that His design is also good. But everywhere around me, within the church and outside of it, I’m bombarded with conflicting debates of what that design is and is not, and to be quite truthful, I wind up with a headache! So anyway, I just wanted to say thank you for writing this and I look forward to reading some more discussion on the beauty of complementarity and femininity!

  5. Staci Eastin says:

    Thanks for weighing in so graciously.

    It’s been a busy day, and I haven’t had time to read and think through everything as carefully as I would have liked, but my first thought when I read Kevin’s article was that in many ways he and Wendy were talking past each other.

    I agree that the two inclinations tend to twine themselves together. The shrewish wife has been around since the book of Job, so it’s nothing new! I wonder, though, if we’re just talking about two different reactions to the same problem. The shrew says, “I need to fix this man, so I’m going to take matters in my own hands.” The doormat says, “If I could just figure out how to please him, then he’ll love me and we’ll be happy.”

    I also appreciate the PTSD analogy. That’s a good thing to remember.

  6. I also appreciate this response and hope that the overarching point of the discussion will not become lost.

    The truth is that the ideas have not been fully articulated, defined, or categorized. And yet, they are the product of a general unrest among conservative women that has less to do with their lack of submission and more to do with a conversation that needs to be more fully developed. And that’s why posts like this are helpful to sorting through those details. But we can only do that as we trust each other and respect where we are all coming from.

    Thanks again for your thoughtful engagement.

  7. Thabiti,

    I echo my sisters above in my gratefulness for how you’ve responded. I read Kevin’s article first thing this morning on my way out the door and felt a bit of a sucker punch. However it wasn’t until I read this paragraph of yours that I was able to articulate why:

    “In some of the “New Wave” posts, wonderfully poignant points were made. But they would also be marred with a kind of agitation and advocacy that I’m sure felt necessary but to me marred the beauty. You could leave feeling like you were the enemy rather than the complement. Likewise, in the counter responses, to the extent that they miss the “gist” of our sisters’ concerns, it’s not difficult to see how some women might go away feeling as if they were just tagged with the “egalitarian,” “feminist” or “problem” label. What they felt could be beautiful might seem trampled upon with slippery slope warnings.”

    Those of us who are resonating with Wendy’s points resonate most strongly because we have felt the “enemy rather than the complement” for too long. I know that the men around me, the leadership at my church, and my brothers in Christ in no way intend for that. They love me, encourage me, serve me, and give me a wide berth to make Christ’s name great. However, especially in online discourse, we come away feeling generally less like a complement and more like a nuisance. In recent conversations with some of my editors here at TGC and CBMW I know this isn’t news to them—and trust me, the collective “we” have felt the hand of generosity toward us in recent months. I am *encouraged,* not discouraged.

    But it is not my encouragement (or discouragement) I am most concerned about, but instead the clarity and beauty of the scripture being illuminated for my sisters who have felt the kick of adversity in the name of complementarity. Hannah is right, it is precisely *because* we are equal that we feel the sacrifice of submission. But I think you will find that for most of us who understand and love the word deeply, submission is a great, great joy for us and not a weight at all. However, that joy in submission must be fought for, and that is more difficult than most men can imagine when it comes with great sacrifice to *personhood.*

    Speaking beautifully about beautiful things, you are right, this is how we make the cross *and* the curse beautiful—because we understand neither terminates on itself in the light of Christ and both point to the hope of glory. With that in mind I’m able to endure the cross and trust in spite of the curse, that this is for my good and His glory. But here, on the ground, with so many women walking wounded, this isn’t their story and so we must be faithful and so very careful to make beautiful what the enemy has painted bleak.

    Thank you again, for this post and your series “I’m a complementarian…but…” Both hugely helpful and fully gracious.

  8. Dan says:

    Thank you for this, Thabiti! Very wise.

  9. Stephen Honey says:

    Pastor Thabiti,

    I tried to read your April 30 blog to Women Who Feel Guilty About Their Abortions. However, since I’m based in mainland China, that particular blog was blocked by the authorities here. Perhaps it shows the sensitivity to the subject in a place where millions of sometimes forced abortions are performed every year for “population control”.

    I will have to wait until I go to Hong Kong to access it.

  10. Doc B says:

    “Womanhood is not an afterthought or a surplus.”

    This is a critical point of importance that I think too many men have missed along the way, and may be partly the reason we have some of the problems we have now.

    On the other hand, the biblical roles given for men and women are not an afterthought either. Missing this point now will not correct earlier errors in the other direction.

  11. Rachael Starke says:

    Thabiti – I was *just* listening to this and EMSDG is *spot* *on*.That audio really is a perfect case study in (unfortunate, no doubt unintended) hyperbole, poor definitions, generalizations and assumptions. And, yes, Dr. Moore does say that he actually prefers the term “patriarchy” to “complementarians”.

    Interestingly, it’s also over ten years old (if I didn’t mishear). I wonder if any of these dear brothers would walk back the way in which they approached the topic.

    And, again, I’m wondering if it would be possible for a much better, more thoughtful audio/video discussion between you, Thabiti, and perhaps Keller, Carson and some of these brothers also, to happen today. And, perhaps, women like Kathleen Nielsen? The fact that this audio conversation is only between men kind of adds to the difficulty in listening. Much like if there was a conversation about racism led only by African Americans.

    1. SM says:

      I have another comment that has been in moderation for 28+ hours that notes additional comments including some by Moore three years later than the recording you say is 10 years old. Most, if not all, of these other quotes from prominent hierarchical-complementarians associated with the TGC & CBMW are less than a year old.

  12. EMSoliDeoGloria says:

    You know, what I’m grateful for is that this conversation is happening among complementarians. I’m grateful for your series on what women can do, and for Jen Wilkin urging brothers to pursue sisters involvement in the church, and for Wendy talking about a new wave of positive, affirming, non-reactive complementarianism (& I’m one of many who is grateful for her NWC post).

    I suppose I might best be characterized as a *very soft* complementarian (on Adrian Warnock’s helpful spectrum). I haven’t been convinced by evangelical egalitarian arguments challenging an exclusively male eldership but I’m extremely put off by the stereotypes, presumptions and extra-biblical commands imposed on women and men by some brothers and sisters on the hierarchial complementarian side (that is complementarianism that places a great deal of emphasis on sexual hierarchy). I am trying to wrap my head around Pastor T characterizing this as a sort of PTSD (maybe b/c I have a sort of responsive PTSD! (: ).

    It has seemed to me that what has been missing in the evangelical world is an internal conversation about how Scripture is interpreted that challenges some of the staple assumptions of the last thirty years of complementarianism. Wendy has done a very good job critiquing Foh. Keller, Pastor T and others have given good arguments for a robust & biblical understanding of a mixed gender deaconate. Dr. Ware’s take on women bearing the image of God in a mediated way which gives the male priority is another which really should receive close and critical examination, as he concludes that “Man is a human being made in the image of God first; woman becomes a human being bearing the image of God only through the man.”

    It is a healthy church which can discuss these things in a healthy way. Pastor T, I think you set a good example of how to do that in your conversation w/ Doug Wilson. I hope a similar conversation can be had on this issue. One thing that is important to get at is that those who use terms like “patrarichalist” or “hierarchial complementarian” are not simply trying to gain rhetorical points. We are trying to accurately describe the perspective of those we are countering, as well as to distinguish our own position – I, for instance, strongly believe in male / female complementarity – in what Carolyn James has called the “blessed alliance” but I think the emphasis in Scripture is on unity and relationship in the church and in marriage rather than on hierarchy.

  13. Donovan says:

    Thabiti, I’m thankful for you. Thanks for modelling a commitment to careful thinking and both grace and truth.

  14. thatmom says:

    SM, thanks for putting those quotes together. You are spot on in your assessment that the words patriarchy and complementarianism have become synonymous among many evangelical leaders. Here is something that has bothered me for a long time: why is it that those of use asking questions are often charged with misunderstanding or of licking our wounds from past bad experiences while the confusion isn’t coming from us, but rather, from those you quoted? Aren’t these people professional communicators who speak at conferences, preach from pulpits, and write books? Why is the burden not on them to be more articulate and forthright in explaining application? And herein, I believe, is the problem: there is a purposeful blurring of the message because they do not have a consensus as to what complementarianism means among them; it easier to blame the hearers than to agree on a nebulous term.

  15. Thabiti, I appreciate your sensitivity to women in the way you write.

    You make about some battle-worn comps may reacting a little harshly from a kind of PTSD. Yes, this may be true. But as a woman who felt herself to be complementarian for some years (and who is still more comp than egal, if I had to declare my hand) I am aware of a lot of PTSD in me when I hear most of the things coming from the big name complementarians of CBMW.

    Let me explain. When I first read the rhetoric of CBMW, I believed that CBMW would stand with and protect Christian women who are victims of domestic abuse and would be open and willing to learning about the dreadful things that are being done to Christian women in the name of submission and headship, and how many churches and pastors are enabling perpetrators and harming victims.

    I have found that the rhetoric is empty words. I and others like me battle every day calling for the conservative church to wake up to the evils of domestic abuse in its midst, and how the abuse is being condoned by and assisted by well known teachers, pastors and churches.

    The survivors of abuse have much more PTSD than the CMBW folk who may be a little upset at the likes of Wendy Alsup’s article. The vast majority of CMBEW folk continue to avoid coming to grips with the issue of domestic abuse in any significant way. And please dont’ quote me their Statement on Abuse, I have critiqued it already and they intimated they would be reviewing it, and years later they still haven’t modified a word of it. I don’t trust them. Why should I, when they said they would review their Statement on Abuse and take some at least of my critical suggestions into account — but they’ve never followed through.

    Frankly, I’m sick of being brushed off.

    I called on John Piper to join us A Cry For Justice, because we are doing the very thing he said he wanted Christians to do http://cryingoutforjustice.wordpress.com/2012/08/03/john-piper-we-are-doing-what-you-want-christians-to-do/ and he has ignored me.

    The biggest deal breaker for me is the doctrine of divorce for abuse. Those who say abuse is not grounds for divorce – I am outraged that they can say this and sleep peacefully at night, while the victims of abuse are suffering daily and nightly in horrendous marriages thinking (because they have been told by conservative pastors and teachers) they cannot ever divorce their monstrous spouses. And please don’t reply saying “well the victim can separate for a season, with the view to reconciliation”. Since when did a period of separation make an abuser stop being an abuser? It only makes them into better at feigning repentance and pretending to have changed. End result: pastor pressures victim to reconcile; victim if wise refuses; victim is excommunicated or subtly edged out of the church; perpetrator justified and exonerated. We hear these stories all the time.

    So, PTSD – yeah, okay, bring it up. .. but be prepared to acknowledge the much more severe PTSD that many complementarian women (and a few men too) have about the way their ex-churches have dealt with them over the doctrine of divorce.

    Sorry Thabiti, I know you mean well, and your heart is in the right place, but let’s get things in perspective here. If a complementarian teacher gets his or her knickers in a knot over the way some complementarian are expressing discomfort at some traditional complementarian ways of thinking, then his or her PTSD is nothing compared to the PTSD of the complementarians who have suffered in abusive marriage way longer than other victims suffer, because of the doctrines they have been taught have kept them scripturally entrapped.

  16. Kim says:

    I’m not a complementarian or egalitarian. When having a Biblical discussion, I generally try to refrain from labels that aren’t listed in the Bible. It’s too much like religious politics.
    I believe that a husband is head of his wife, and that his wife should submit to his leadership. I have a tremendous amount of respect for you and Wendy, and I follow both blogs. With that being said, I strongly agree with Wendy’s interpretation of Gen 3:16 concerning the woman’s desire. I have believed that way for years. Wendy just finally put pen to paper and got the conversation started. The typical understanding of Gen 3:16 is very one dimensional. It disproportionately focuses on a wife’s alleged desire to control her husband but fails to address the husband’s propensity to rule, dominate, master his wife.

    Many times, marital discord is often seen as the fault of an unsubmissive, disrespectful and controlling wife. However, there’s far less discussion about a husband’s desire to rule, dominate and master his wife (and his resulting ideas about his wife’s submission or lack thereof) rather than provide God-submitted, servant leadership and how that contributes to martial discord. That part always seems to be conveniently omitted from the discussion.

    Do I believe in the existence of wives who desire to control their husbands? Yes. Do I believe in the existence of wives who have an idolatrous desire for the husbands? Yes. Do I believe in the existence of wives who possess both mentalities? Yes. The truth is that there is no one size fits all or most category for wives. Some may be controlling. Some may be idolatrous. Some may be both. Some are submissive and virtuous. Some have submitted to the leadership of rebellious husbands against their better judgement and suffered dire consequences, those are often the stories that are untold, and the cries that are unheard.

    Do I believe in the existence of husbands who desire to control their wives rather than provide God-submitted, servant leadership? Yes. Do I believe in the existence of God- submitted husbands who strive to be servant leaders like Christ? Yes. Men don’t want to be put in a one size fits all or most category because it isn’t fair or accurate. The same applies to women.

    I said all that to say, it sure would be productive to hear a more balanced approach to Gen 3:16. One that also deals with a husband’s desire to dominate his wife, and not just a debate about whether wives are more apt to usurp their husband’s authority or have idolatrous desire for them. Thank you for your time, effort and consideration of such matters. They are not unappreciated.

    1. Amen, Kim. Thank you very much for your measured and well articulated thoughts here. Would you kindly click on my name to go to my blog and find my email address and make contact with me by email? I would like to talk to you more about this, and maybe use some of your words in a post I will be writing.
      Thanks.

      And once more, thanks to Thabiti for providing a safe place on the web to keep this conversation going.

  17. Little Sheep says:

    Paul most certainly says that women shouldn’t teach or exercise authority over men, but he doesn’t really get into the nitty gritty of ‘why’. I’ve most often heard that women were uneducated back then & that disqualified them teaching/eldership. What I’ve found extremely frustrating is the variety of explanations & so much being ‘added’ to the text that simply isn’t there. One version that I recently read saying Paul was clearly indicating the reason is simply that women are gullible & so much easier deceived than men, therefore unfit to teach men. The apostle Paul squarely places the blame for the fall on Adam’s shoulders not Eve, yet Adam’s never accused of being unfit to teach on this basis. What I do find confusing is how often people completely dismiss the ‘head covering’ command & ‘it being shameful for women to speak in church’ conveniently as purely cultural issues & don’t practice them but are quick to say women have no place in church leadership. Why adopt some of the things Paul says & not others? I hear this question often too, why did God allow women judges in the OT & seemingly approve of them exercising authority over men? Did God change His mind? Didn’t Priscilla teach Apollos? Is there a verse where Paul specifically permits women to teach children in the church, particularly males? I’ve heard Dr. Sproul speak on this topic & said he felt many go too far on this subject. He clearly stated he believed in women teaching in seminaries & in the local church, provided they didn’t have judiciary authority over the men. So now, women are allowed to teach men, just not in an authoritative way ‘in the church’. Quite frankly so much on this topic starts to seem like a cherry picking festival after awhile which is why I think so many women like myself become dubious about ever fully understanding this topic & all the complexities relating to it.

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Thabiti Anyabwile


Thabiti Anyabwile is assistant pastor for church planting at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC and a Council member with The Gospel Coalition. You can follow him on Twitter.

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